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Supporting parishioners during pandemic helped St. Anne in long run

By May 26, 2021October 11th, 2021Steier Tips

Despite significant challenges, including the pandemic, the St. Anne Catholic Community in Houston, Texas, came together to raise more than $19.5 million to fund a complete transformation of its nearly century-old parish campus.

“When we decided to move forward with our campaign, we never imagined we would be facing two hurricanes, a global pandemic, an economic shutdown and a change in parish leadership,” said Fr. David Zapalac, CSB, pastor of St. Anne.

In late 2019, St. Anne engaged the Steier Group to direct the final wave of their Generations of Faith Capital Campaign. At that point, the campaign had been underway for nearly two years. Fr. Zapalac and other parish leaders knew they needed a reliable, experienced partner to re-energize the stalled campaign, guide them through the public phase and close the funding gap for the project.

“We wanted to take on as little debt as possible,” Fr. Zapalac said. “The Steier Group was able to help us raise an additional $3 million toward our total goal. This was especially remarkable since the campaign was postponed due to the pandemic and the parish was closed for in-person Masses and events for most of 2020.”

“Other consultants told us what they thought they could do, but ultimately didn’t hit their goal. The Steier Group was well informed, gave us an ambitious yet realistic projection, and found a way to hit and even exceed that goal despite the pandemic.”

– Fr. David Zapalac, CSB

Several key factors led to a successful public phase, including strong campaign leadership, a commitment to donor cultivation, personalized outreach and tailored messaging for different audiences. Most importantly, when the pandemic hit in March 2020, the parish took bold steps to meet the material and spiritual needs of parishioners.

“During the height of the pandemic, under the Steier Group’s leadership, we shifted focus from active fundraising to supporting our parishioners,” Fr. Zapalac said. “It was the right thing to do, and it meant a lot to our families. The Steier Group trained our volunteers and coordinated outreach calls to more than 2,200 parishioners.”

St. Anne, with support from the Steier Group, produced a COVID-19 resource guide for parish families as well as liturgical guides for celebrating feast days from home. They also set up a dedicated prayer hotline and sent daily spiritual reflections from various ministry leaders to more than 4,000 parishioners.

“The parish’s communications efforts and outreach not only allowed us to continue serving our people during a difficult time, but also laid the foundation for our fundraising efforts later in the year,” said David Holt, campaign chair. “People still felt connected to the parish despite not being able to gather in person for many months.”

In August 2020, when the final wave of the campaign was finally set to relaunch, St. Anne and the Steier Group had developed a robust communications strategy and solicitation plan to ensure success despite the ongoing challenges. A mix of direct mail, email, social media, video messages and personal outreach from campaign leaders built strong awareness for the needs and generated a strong response among parishioners.

“We had to adjust our solicitation strategy to meet the donors where they were,” Holt said. “Some people were comfortable visiting in person or coming to the parish for small group tours of the new facilities. Others preferred to meet by phone or video conference. It required a lot more follow-up to connect with donors in a meaningful way.”

With persistent and personalized outreach, Fr. Zapalac and the campaign leaders were successful in securing significant additional gifts and encouraging parish-wide participation during the final wave.

“As a new pastor, I didn’t have much experience asking parishioners for their support,” Fr. Zapalac said. “Our campaign manager guided us through the entire solicitation process from start to finish. It was all very organized and well-coordinated. With his help, I was even able to secure a six-figure gift during my first donor visit.”

After nearly six months of active fundraising, St. Anne received more than $3 million in additional gifts and pledges – even while the parish was closed.

“The response from parishioners during this final wave was overwhelming,” Holt says. “We knew the community loved St. Anne, but we never expected this outpouring of generosity. It is incredible to see what we can do when we come together to support the church and school.”

“The parish will never be the same,” Fr. Zapalac said. “Our new community center, gymnasium, parking facility and athletic fields will meet the needs of our growing parish – now and for many years to come. I could not be happier with the service the Steier Group provided and the results we were able to achieve together.”